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Seeking the crown, flying proud

By Jonathan P. Gesmundo

Interesting stories swirl around beauty pageants – dreams fulfilled, the winding road to the finals, pain and sacrifices, strain on family relations, the drama of a high-stakes contest.

Pageant winners and their stories usually get most attention, if not movie or product endorsement contracts.

But every contestant embodies a childhood dream nurtured by many young Filipinas – to be a beauty queen. To many raised outside urban centers, it’s either a beauty queen or a flight stewardess.

Remarkably, the 2019 Binibining Pilipinas pageant – the most prestigious of all local beauty contests – featured four candidates who anonymously have flying careers.

Denielle Joie Magno, Kimberle Mae Penchon and Joahnna Carla Saad are PAL flight attendants while Martina Turner Diaz flies for PAL Express.

None emerged as top title winners, but the stories of Flight Attendants Joahnna and Martina broke the win-the-crown-at-all-costs stereotype of pageant title dreamers. Joahnna placed 15th in the finals, while Martina landed 25th and won the Miss Philippine Airlines title. Both ladies went home happy, not with a crown, but enriched by the experience.

Apart from being cabin attendants and first-timers at the Bb. Pilipinas, Joahnna and Martina have several other similarities. Both are only daughters (Martina is eldest in a brood of five while Joahnna is youngest among three siblings); both felt that the timing was right to join this year’s pageant; both enjoy their PAL Family jobs; both want to someday put up their own food businesses.

Joahnna and Martina did not feel bad for not bagging any of the top eight crowns, including the much coveted Bb. Pilipinas Universe and Bb. Pilipinas International titles. In a field of 40 candidates, Joahnna and Martina just prayed for high ranking in the final tallies.

Joahnna, 26 years old, has been flying for four years now. She grew up in Dumaguete where she finished college at Silliman University.

She relates that her cabin crew training prepared her well for the grueling, three-month pageant. “We did a lot of interacting with different people, with fellow candidates. We learned a lot from the workshops, similar to our cabin crew training such as make-up and poise and social etiquette,” she said.

Pageant winners, Joahnna discovered, would have to take a long leave to be able to perform their duties during the one-year reign, which includes representing the country in international competitions.

But Joahnna would not trade her flying career for a crown. “I love my job. While I learned a lot during the pageant, flying is a far better high for me than the glamor of a beauty title. I would not give up flying for a crown,” she confided.

Of course, a Bb. Pilipinas crown would have been a God-given bonus that could have boosted her social status and career, as it did to other flight attendants who won the contest in the past. In 2009, PAL Flight Attendant Pamela Bianca Manalo was crowned Bb. Pilipinas-Universe, on top of four other special awards, including Miss Philippine Airlines. Although she did not bring home the brightest crown of all – the Miss Universe – Bianca eventually made a name in local show business.

A business management graduate, Joahnna frowned at the meager financial return for investing so much during the pageant – cost of hair and make-up, designer dresses, gowns, etc. “We spent so much for the pursuit of glamor and prestige.”

Meanwhile, Martina, 23 and from Muntinlupa, echoes the same sentiment. “I do not need a crown to prove myself.”

The rigors of the competition gave important lessons – self-esteem, projection, getting along with others – which Martina combined with values learned during her PAL Express cabin crew training, like warm and caring service, dedication to duty and Filipino hospitality.

She recalls the intense competition among the candidates, including the race to get the most likes and views of their Facebook posts – which got factored in choosing the winners.

Martina and her lola

When Martina was presented the Miss Philippine Airlines special award during coronation night, she fought back the tears. She remembered her Lola (Lucy Diaz) who raised her as a baby and passed away when Martina was in Grade 5.

“When the Miss PAL sash was being pinned on me, I know my lola was watching. She had two dreams for me – to be a stewardess and to be a beauty queen. That night, they were fulfilled.”

Youthful Martina hopes to one day transfer to the PAL cabin crew roster while pursuing an MBA degree at De La Salle. She got her undergraduate degree (Business Administration) from De La Salle St. Benilde in Antipolo at the young age of 20.

When the opportunity comes, Martina hopes to support programs for senior citizens and the elderly, so she can pay forward her Lola’s loving influence on her.

She and Joahnna typify the potential statuesque beauty queen that many Filipinas look up to, making the ranks of PAL cabin attendants a rich source of crown aspirants through the years. Surely, they will live out the rich lessons of their Bb. Pilipinas experience and continue representing their beloved Philippines, perhaps not in an international pageant, but certainly in their vital everyday roles as inflight safety professionals and service frontliners for Asia’s first airline.

Today, when taking their respective flight assignments, Joahnna and Martina, along with Denielle Joie and Kimberle Mae, might be expected to glide down the length of cabin aisles much like a pageant runway – no spotlights, no applause, just confidence and poise and warm friendliness as they push food trolleys to bring passengers their coffee, tea or juice, of course with a touch of Buong Pusong Alaga.

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